The other day, 16 year-old Tyler asked his mom if she would buy him a set of dumbbells. He wanted to start working out, especially his arms and upper body. Tyler’s mother was happy he was interested in becoming fit, but she didn’t know much about lifting weights. She wanted to ensure he would be exercising correctly and wouldn’t get hurt.
Supervision by a trained professional is key to successful strength training, says Joseph Molony, a physical therapist and coordinator of the Young Athlete Program at Hospital for Special Surgery. “Done safely with the proper technique, strength training is good for teenagers and even for pre-adolescents,” says Molony, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. “There’s a belief that young people should not engage in strength training, but that’s a myth.”
It’s a good idea for teens and their parents to consider what they hope to gain from strength training, according to Dr. Daniel Green, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the Lerner Children’s Pavilion at HSS. Dr. Green also recommends a doctor’s visit before starting the program if a teenager has experienced pain or a previous injury so that the appropriate treatment plan and training strategy can be developed.
The next step is to find a structured, well-supervised program or a certified instructor to get started. A fitness evaluation, development of a safe program geared to an individual’s needs, and learning proper technique are essential, according to Molony.
Teens may be able to find a program in their community, or they may opt for one-on-one instruction. The HSS Young Athlete Program offers training and conditioning for small groups, as well as individual sessions.
“A general strengthening program should offer age-appropriate exercises; teach proper movement patterns; address major muscle groups, including the core; and have the teen progress in a slow and steady manner,” says Ashley Fluger, an exercise physiologist at the HSS Young Athlete Program. “A well-rounded fitness program also incorporates cardiovascular exercises that are good for the heart, such as biking or running, as well as exercises to increase flexibility, such as foam rolling.”
To find a fitness professional, do your homework and check credentials. An expert should have formal training and some type of certification. For example, Molony and Fluger are certified strength and conditioning specialists. Here are their strength-training recommendations:
Finally, teens should stay away from supplements purported to enhance performance. A better overall strategy to ensure success includes a nutritious diet containing lots of protein, fruits and vegetables; sufficient hydration; dedication to the exercise program; maintaining good form while exercising; adequate rest; and slow and steady progress.